Where have you networked this week? If you’re like many small business owners, operators and sales personnel, you answer is likely ‘um, nowhere’. That’s unfortunate, because networking is one of the single most powerful small business marketing strategies you can employ. Best of all, all it takes is a bit of your time – typically doing something fun - and perhaps a few business cards to hand out to new connections.
Speaking of connections, LinkedIn doesn’t count as networking. Neither does Facebook. Networking is about face, though: face-to-face interaction. And networking is vital to maximizing small business success. People like to buy from people they know and trust, and they refer their friends, family members and business colleagues to people they know and trust.
Given the choice between doing business with someone you know and trust versus an unknown entity, which would you hire? Naturally, the person you know and trust. And even the staunchest supporter of automated marketing will admit there is nothing so powerful as word-of-mouth marketing. But it takes more work.
The problem is many of us view networking as a stressful activity. Chances are, you’re not the type of person who ‘works a room’. In fact, you’re probably not even the type of person who enjoys meeting strangers or speaking to a crowd. Few of us are. But networking doesn’t have to be so stressful.
One of my favorite networking strategies, especially at events, conferences and expos specifically set up to foster business networking, is to seek out the wallflowers: those people who are as shy or nervous (or even more so) as me. By approaching fellow wallflowers, I’m able to more easily break the ice without facing intimidation. I find most are eager to talk, they’re just too shy to make the first move. But once the ice is broken, they’re often the most interesting people at the event: not self-centered and full of fascinating stories. The wallflowers become my networking partners, and many end up becoming clients. The bonds forged through a shared anxiety are mighty.
In short, you have no excuse not to network; and if you want to achieve the greatest possible success, you can’t afford not to network. Thus, I present you with the following challenge:
Develop a strategic business networking plan for the next six months. Seek out networking groups, trade shows, conferences, etc. Keep your business cards handy for chance encounters. Talk about your business to those who will listen, and listen to them more. Talk about the types of customers you’re seeking, and ask your fellow business colleagues what types of customers they’re seeking. Spend far more time listening than talking. Enjoy yourself. Map out your strategy, and execute it. If you put the effort it, I can guarantee you will meet new connections that will lead to new business.
Not sure where to network? Networking opportunities are everywhere, from planned events to non-business activities to chance encounters. Here are a few of my favorite places to network:
- the gym
- the grocery store line
- local parks
- trade shows and conferences, seminars, expos, etc.
- BNI meetings
- civic board meetings
- volunteer charity events
- weddings, graduations and anniversary parties
Of course, there are many more places you can find networking opportunities; these are just those I’ve enjoyed. Now, it’s your turn: where are your favorite places to network? Where have you networked this week?